Recommendation Examples

Let’s review the car-starting example to tie all of this together:

Example 3.1
RFS: How can we get the car started?

OC: When I turn the key with the door open, the buzzer sounds.
DC: When I turn the key, the car doesn’t start.
LQ: Why won’t the car start?

EE1: The lights have been dimming recently.
EE2: Fuses have been blowing.

RA1: Electrical failure.
RA2: Out of fuel.
RA3: Fouled spark plugs.

BE: The car won’t start because of an electrical failure.
RR1: Service the ignition system.
RR2: Repair shorted wiring.
RR3: Charge the battery.

SR1: Blown fuses suggest shorts in wiring.

BR: We can get the car started by repairing the shorted wiring.

Note that we embed an explanation under the Distinguishing Condition that the car doesn’t start. The fact that the car doesn’t start is the anomalous behaviour that motivated our RFS in the first place; it needs explanation if we’re to make a best recommendation.

This structure can serve as an outline for a narrative about how to get the car started. For example:

To get the hard-starting car running, we need to repair the shorted wiring. Though the problem with the car is clearly electrical, charging the battery or servicing the ignition system, also electrical parts of the car, will not likely get the car running.
While investigating why the car wouldn’t start, we noted that the lights have been dimming recently and that there have been several blown fuses. These are unexpected behaviours. This evidence suggests a systematic electrical failure somewhere in the car.
We note also that the door buzzer sounds when open. This suggests that there is at least some charge in the battery. Though it would be informative to verify that the battery has enough charge to start the car, the fact that fuses have blown suggests a different specific problem.
Since blown fuses are associated with shorts in the electrical system, we determine battery charge to be less likely the problem. Given these considerations, we feel that the best recommendation is to find and repair any shorts in the electrical system.

Notice that in the narrative we have included the investigative work we did previously, as well as addressing other recommendations. In general, showing that you have considered other courses of action makes your writing (and your arguments) more persuasive.

Example 3.2
Brian likes comedy
RFG: What movie should Brian see?

ASP1: Brian would like to see a comedy.

AVR1: Brian WILL NOT watch a movie starring Tom Cruise.

RR1: Brian should see The Big Lebowski.
RR2: Brian should see Raising Arizona.
RR3: Brian should see Top Gun.

SR1: Tanya has seen The Big Lebowski, and Brian hasn’t.
SR2: Tanya liked The Big Lebowski.
SR3: Brian and Tanya like the same styles of comedy.

BR: Brian should see The Big Lebowski.

This case is purposefully basic, and so this formalisation is rather an academic exercise. It captures much of what might happen in a conversation about what movie to see. If Brian asks Tanya “What movie should I see?” Tanya would probably ask first “What kind of movie do you want to see?” His answer will be an Aspiration, as represented here.

In response to the same question, Brian would likely qualify that he absolutely will not, under any circumstances, see a movie starring Tom Cruise. That’s an important qualification, here represented as Aversion, as it is expressed as a negative, and is a deal-breaker.

The Supporting Resources read like dialogue between the two. Tanya would likely mention to Brian that she recently watched The Big Lebowski, and she thought it was funny. She liked it. The fact that they share tastes in movies helps the recommendation of The Big Lebowski seem better (underwrites the recommendation).

As Rival Recommendations we’ve included an alternative, which we know nothing about, and a film starring Tom Cruise, a recommendation which Brian would (obviously) immediately reject.

This leaves us with the The Big Lebowski as our Best Recommendation. Note that when we express BR, we are not answering a problem, as we did in investigations. Consequently, our BR is a restatement of the Rival Recommendation. Compare and contrast this with the Best Recommendations that results from Requests for Solution.

Example 3.3
Lake Road Traffic
RFS: What should we do about traffic on Lake Road?

OC: During non-business hours, traffic flows freely.
OC: During school holidays, traffic flows freely.

DC: After the school day ends, traffic often jams.
LQ: Why does traffic jam soon after the school day ends?

ER1: At around 3.15 PM on school days, traffic jams.
ER2: At around 3.15 PM on non-school days, traffic flows freely.

RA1: Drivers slow down around pedestrian students.
RA2: Many students drive away from school.
RA3: Pedestrian students, who use the controlled crossings nearly-constantly shortly after 3.00 PM, interrupt the flow of traffic.

ER1: School lets out at 3.00 PM.
ER2: It takes a few minutes for pedestrian students to start using Lake Road after school lets out.

BE: Traffic jams soon after the school day ends because pedestrian students interrupt the flow of traffic.
RR1: Change the traffic lights to roundabouts.
RR2: Change pedestrian crossings so they don’t stop traffic.
RR3: Add lanes.

SR1: There are two traffic lights between the motorway and the end of the road.
SR2: Adding lanes to busy roads has been shown to be ineffective in easing congestion.

BR: To ease traffic on Lake Road, we should change pedestrian crossings so they don’t stop traffic.

Our Best Recommendation would make an ideal first sentence to an essay about our solution to Lake Road’s traffic woes. For example:

To ease traffic on Lake Road, we should change pedestrian crossings so they don’t stop traffic. Others have suggested changing traffic lights to roundabouts and adding lanes to the road, but a close analysis of the problem shows that changing pedestrian crossings is most likely to fix the problem.
Traffic on Lake Road backs up at regular times. During non-business hours and during school holidays, traffic generally flows freely. After the school day ends, traffic often jams.
It is worth noting that there are two sets of traffic lights on Lake Road between three large schools. These schools let out at the same time. Some students drive their own cars. Many use public transportation, and many walk. Those who use public transportation use a controlled pedestrian crossing to get to the bus stop. Many who walk cross at one of the two controlled pedestrian crossings.
Among the many possible explanations for traffic jamming at those hours are:
that drivers slow down around pedestrian students
that many students drive away from the school, causing congestion
that pedestrian students, who use the controlled crossings nearly-constantly shortly after school lets out, interrupt the flow of traffic.
Generally, there are two kinds of reasons why traffic might jam: problems with traffic flow, and problems with road capacity. Given that the road only jams at certain times, and given results of various traffic studies, capacity seems not to be the problem. This eliminates the second possibility from the list above.
While it is possible, perhaps likely, that drivers tend to slow down around pedestrian students, all traffic stops flowing when pedestrian students use the controlled crossings. This is the best explanation for the jamming of traffic on Lake Road.
Furthermore, when school is not in session, traffic flows freely at these hours. This underwrites our explanation that the movement of pedestrians across Lake Road is the main cause of the traffic jamming problems.
Given this, and given the fact that adding lanes to busy roads has been shown to, often, fail to ease congestion, we can recommend altering the way pedestrians cross Lake Road as an effective traffic easing measure.

In a fuller treatment of this case, complete with references, we would include other Distinguishing Conditions, plus their explanations. For example, on fair-weather weekends, traffic on Lake Road jams as well. The explanation of this may or may not be attributable to the flow of cars; a thorough investigation would be in order. The results of that investigation would either underwrite or undermine the reliability of the recommendation we have offered in this sample case.

Example 3.4.1
University Lecture Attendance
RFS: How can we increase university lecture attendance?

OC: Students are required to participate in lectures, either through face-to-face attendance or listening to recordings.

DC: Face-to-face lecture attendance has dropped over the past five years.
LQ: Why has lecture attendance dropped over the past five years?

EE1: More students listen to recordings than live lectures.

RA1: Students prefer to listen at their leisure.
RA2: Students are apathetic.
RA3: Quality of lecturers has declined.

ER1: For the past five years, all classes have had an online component.
ER2: Instructors post all teaching materials (including lecture recordings) on a course website.
ER3: Online materials are accessible at all times.

BE: Lecture attendance has dropped because students prefer to listen at their leisure.
RR1: Include material in face-to-face lectures that isn’t available in a recording.
RR2: Give credit for lecture attendance.
RR3: Change students’ perception of the importance of attending lectures.

SR1: Studies show face-to-face listening superior to listening to recordings.

BR: To increase university lecture attendance, we should work to change students’ perception of the importance of attending lectures.

Here the Distinguishing Condition inspires the Request for Solution. The problem is expressed in the DC: Face-to-face lecture attendance has dropped over the past five years. This stands in need of explanation.

The explanation of DC includes R2: Instructors post all teaching materials (including lecture recordings) on a course website. This might seem to be a Rival Answer, however closer consideration reveals this is a reason, not an explanation. The fact that lecture recordings are available online does not tell you why students do not attend the lectures. They do not attend because they prefer to engage at their leisure; online recordings simply facilitate this.

We choose “BE: Lecture attendance has dropped because students prefer to listen at their leisure” because the availability of materials allows for personalised scheduling. (This is largely the point of online courses.) If it’s possible to make your own schedule, and you have other things to do, then you’ll take advantage of this possibility. This seems to be what students do, and that is what we express in the explanation of DC.

The Ordinary Condition expresses the context in which the DC occurs. Students are required (by policy) to engage with lecture material. They do, but in a forum that isn’t face-to-face.

With this explanation in place, we can see the difficulty of increasing face-to-face lecture attendance. R1 and R2 betray the point of offering online material (note that we could demand an explanation of why we think the point of offering online material is wider availability). Since student preferences and scheduling are the reason most students do not attend lectures, we would need to take action to alter student preferences. Certainly, this would be no easy task.

However, if S1 is true, and we could add further resources in favour of this point, then it would be worth our while to make an effort to alter student perceptions and preferences. Therefore, the Best Recommendation is:

BR: To increase university lecture attendance, we should work to change students’ perception of the importance of attending lectures.

You might think: the way the request is framed, there’s no space to answer “We shouldn’t try to increase attendance at university lectures.” This Rival Recommendation would not answer the request; the request assumes that we want to increase attendance.

Note that this is perfectly acceptable. We are free to ask for solutions to what we see as problems, regardless of whether others see these things as problems. Keep in mind, though, to some a decrease in university lecture attendance will be a goal rather than a problem. The discussion between these groups will take a different form, which we will address below.

Last modified: Wednesday, 7 February 2018, 9:55 PM